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One in five inmates to benefit from prison remission announcement

16 December 2019 - 16:17 By Amil Umraw
Justice minister Ronald Lamola.
Justice minister Ronald Lamola.
Image: Gallo Images / Daily Sun / Lucky Morajane

About one-fifth of SA’s total prison offender population will have their sentences reduced thanks to a presidential remission of sentence programme.

During a Day of Reconciliation commemoration in Bergville, KwaZulu-Natal, on Monday, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a decision to remit the sentence expiry dates of specific categories of sentenced offenders, probationers and parolees across all correction facilities in SA.

In a press briefing after Ramaphosa’s announcement, justice minister Ronald Lamola explained that about 51,063 criminal offenders out of SA's total 233,945 offenders would be granted special remission.

This includes almost 85% of probationers not in correctional facilities, half of all parolees already reintroduced back to communities, half of the total community correction population and about 9% of the country’s total inmate population.

However, prisoners who have committed sexual offences, child abuse, murder and attempted murder or armed robbery would not qualify.

“Through policy reforms, we will ensure that our criminal justice system does not criminalise poverty, most of the people whose sentences will be remitted are individuals who could not afford to pay a fine and bail,” Lamola told the media in Pretoria.

“In terms of inmates within correctional centers, less than 10% (8.99%) of the total inmate population of 163,015 will be considered. Of those to be considered in correctional facilities, the greater part of the eligible 14,647 inmates are closer to their parole consideration dates.

“Therefore, should they be granted parole, they will be released into the system of community corrections as parolees and will be closely monitored by correctional services officials until their sentence expiry dates," said Lamola.

Offenders classified as low risk will receive an additional 12 months - notably offenders for violent crimes who have served almost the minimum required time for parole consideration will only be granted 12 months special remission.

Presidential remissions were last exercised in 2012, when former president Jacob Zuma excused 45,033 offenders.

AbaThembu King Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo and Fees Must Fall activist Khanya Cekeshe were among the high-profile inmates who would benefit. Both were now eligible for parole.

According to Lamola, prisoners who scored from remission of sentences - including under Zuma in 2015 and under former president Thabo Mbeki who, in May 2005 granted special remissions to 65,837 offenders - were incredibly unlikely to reoffend.

"In the previous remissions, in 2005 (0.24%) in 2012 (0.25%), less than 1% of the remitted individuals reoffended," he said.

Lamola said that it was difficult to know exactly how long it would take for the process to be finalised, but that it started from the moment Ramaphosa made the announcement.